Thursday, 23 February 2012

49: The Space Pirates - A Dull Space Opera Meets A Futuristic CopSit-Com

Written by: Robert Holmes
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot.
Monsters/Villains: Caven, Dervish, Space Pirates.
Brief Synopsis: The International Space Corps are on the trail of a buch of Argonite Pirates.
Rating: 3/10.

Right, I have to start this one off with a confession: I have never seen/heard The Space Pirates ever before!! I know, how can I call myself a fan? I just haven't! There's only one episode out of six that exists to this day, and there is little to no visual representation of this story, it is also the last story that doesn't exist in it's entirety and I had heard I wasn't missing much (we shall see). Unfortunately where the previous story, The Seeds of Death, took the late-sixties obsession with space travel and gave it an ironic twist, The Space Pirates, ah... doesn't.

Space Beacon Alpha 1.
We see Caven, Dervish and the space pirates plant demolition charges on space beacon Alpha 1, detonate their explosives and steal the beacon's precious mineral: Argonite. Then we watch them do exactly the same thing to Beacon Alpha 7. I'm not sure why we need to see this twice. However, never fear the Earth International Space Corps ship V41-LO, General Hermack and Major Warne are on the case. Some people have referred to this story as 'The Bill in Space,' and for the most part I would have to agree. General Exposition... I mean General Hermack is played by Jack May of The Archers fame, but he's rubbish. I'm genuinely not sure what accent he's going for and he's just very dull. One could blame his poor, frequently expositional and technobabble-based dialogue, but he is also just rubbish. His colleague, Major Warne is played by the excellent, Donald Gee, he's definitely going for an american accent, but sadly he is nearly just as unstimulating as his commanding officer.

Hermack and Warne having a coffee break. Thrilling... not!
In order to stop any more beacons from befalling the same fate, Hermack decides to man the other beacons. They leave Lt. Sorba and some men at beacon Alpha 4, where the TARDIS and the space pirates also soon arrive. Once aboard Caven kills the space corp men, takes Lt. Sorba prisoner and seals the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe in to a fragment of the beacon.

Fragments of the Beacon blasting away for the third time!! Snore.
The Pirates set their explosive charges, detach from Alpha 4 and detonate (so that's three times we've seen this now. Why?). The beacon breaks up sending the Doctor and his companions sprawling.

Dervish and Caven.
Episode two actually exists! Yay! The titular Space Pirates don't make an appearance, but we do however get a visit from the old, outdated space ship, LIZ 79 and it's prospector captain, Milo Clancey played completely round-the-bend-insanely by Gordon Costelow. Where this character and Costelow's wild west style performance might annoy in any other story, here his liveliness is more than welcome. The only thing he can be held accountable for is pointing out how colourless and monotonous every one else is. 

Milo Clancey played box-of-frogs crazy by Gordon Costelow.
Clancey is brought aboard the Space Corp V ship and questioned. Hermack releases him but puts him under observation as he suspects that he is in league with the pirates. There is even the first Doctor Who reference to the dreaded mind probe, when Warne suggests this means of learning the truth from Clancey. The closest planet to the latest "Beacon-busting" is Ta, which is dominated by the Issigri Mining Corporation, whose leader is Madeleine Issigri (who has a rather interesting hair hat). The firm was founded by her father and our cowboy captain Clancey, and the latter is now suspected of Dom Issigri’s murder, although nothing has been proved.

Madeline Issigri and her... um... Golden hair hat.
Still trapped inside a fragment of the beacon, in an attempt to get back to the TARDIS the Doctor manages to launch them further away from the other parts of the beacon and towards their certain doom. It's fascinating to see Troughton really being quite serious here. He really shows the defeatism when he thinks that there is no hope for himself or his companions. After all this time, in his penultimate story Troughton is still trying new things with the character. Basically I love Troughton. Cowboy Clancey picks up the Doctor's part of the beacon, links up, comes aboard and shockingly shoots Jamie.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe think their number is up.
And we're back to just audio for the last 4 episodes. Fortunately, yet unsurprisingly, Jamie is just stunned. Clancey and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe each think the other are the pirates, but quickly learn they are mistaken and team up.

Warne wearing what looks like the
Ice Lords Helmet from the previous story.
General Exposition... I mean Hermack goes to the planet Ta and proves himself to be the biggest idiot in the universe. Madeline Issigri has a model of a Beta Dart spaceship (like the one the pirates are using) and says her company has just bought two. Hermack can't seem to see what is patently obvious; that Clancey is clearly innocent and that this oddly hatted fem-fatal, is the one in league with the pirates. His dense detective work is clearly part of the fun. No one is trying to hide Madeline's guilt from us the audience which turns Jack May's Hermack's serious approach to hilarity. On the other hand you've got  Gordon Costelow giving us humorous bluster - but all to disguise the fact the Clancey is the most intelligent and independent character of the lot

The Pirates Beat Dart docked with a Beacon.
Caven who is hiding on Ta sends the argonite filled fragments of the beacon to the planet Lobos to place suspicion on Clancey, who owns the mining operation on that planet. The Doctor, Clancey, Zoe and Jamie are chased by pirates and fall into a mineshaft chasm where they find Lt. Sorba.

The Space Corp Ship V41-LO.
Once again Hermack shows his stupidity... I mean... beneficence, when he orders to abort an attack on the pirates ship when he recognises the Issigri logo on it's hull. He's so dumb! The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, Sorba and Clancey escape and while killing some pirates on the way, they head to Madeline's office to warn her. When they arrive Caven enters, kills Sorba and reveals that Madeline is the one in cahoots with the pirates. Big surprise there!

This is what Lisa Daniely, who plays Madeline
Issigri looks like without the silly hair hat.
Umm.. WOW!
Caven imprisons the Doctor and co when Madeline protests his plan to kill them. They're locked in a study where they find Madeline's father Dom Issigri, who is not dead but has been held captive by Caven. Madeline tries to contact Hermack to get help with the Pirates but Caven disconnects the signal and gets her to keep quiet when he reveals to her that he is holding her father captive.

Rather hilariously the Doctor uses smeared candle wax and marbles placed in front of the door to trip over some guards, whilst Clancey and Jamie knock some out and Zoe smashes a vase on one guard's head. Weirdly, during the escape the Doctor gets separated from Jamie and Zoe (off screen) and makes it to the LIZ 79 only to be caught in the blast as Caven remotely forces the ship to take off with Clancey and Dom inside.

Clancey aboard the LIZ 79.
Jamie and Zoe find the Doctor but Clancey and Dom are trapped on the LIZ which is out of control, and to make matters worse Caven cuts their oxygen supply. Jamie rescues Madeline from the pirate Dervish, the Doctor returns the oxygen to the LIZ, and instructs Clancey how to deactivate the remote control.

The Minnow.
In a last ditch attempt to rid themselves of their problems Caven has Dervish plant demolition charges in the atomic fuel store of the Issigri base. Fortunately the Doctor manages to defuse the detonator before the pirates can activate it. Hermack contacts Madeline to let her know that they will attack the Pirates in 55 minutes? It's like they've gone out of their way to seem mundane. Eventually Warne is sent out in a Minnow (small fast ship) and destroys the Pirates and their ship. Madeline is taken to earth to stand trial for her part in the plot and Clancey agrees to take the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to Lobos in the LIZ to find the beacon fragment containing the TARDIS.

So, there you have it. A story I had never seen before. I started off very excited to be seeing new, old Who but sadly I feel I wasn't particularly missing anything in this one. The Doctor and co hardly appear at all, (although more than I had heard) and although they do have a bearing on the story it doesn't feel much like Doctor Who. It's more like a rather dull space opera meets a futuristic cop sit-com. This is Robert Holmes second outing as writer and he still hasn't quite got it. I'm not sure if this is a step forward or a step back from The Krotons but it certainly isn't what we'll come to expect from one who would go on to be considered the best writer Doctor Who has ever had...

On the plus side I have reached the last missing episode. Things will be decidedly easier from here on in. I actually can't express how difficult it was at times to focus on what was happening in some of those audio-only episodes. I now feel a combination of depression and elation; sad that I am reaching the end of Troughton, who has really become my new favourite Doctor, and excited about moving on to Pertwee and colour. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'm not there yet...

Join me next time for Troughton's final story, and a true epic, The War Games.

1 comment:

Long John Silver said...

Having heard all about what pirates are supposed to get up to with their cabin boys, Zoe cuts her hair and puts on a pair of shorts for this story. As things turns out, she doesn't get any action from the space pirates, but she does appear to end up in a threesome with Jamie and the Doctor, in that, every time the camera cuts back to beacon Alpha 4, we find them lying in a intimate tangle of arms and legs, utterly exhausted.